The Twin Cities are slowly being Californicated.
I’m taking liberties with the term, which most know as either a 21st-century TV series starring David Duchovny or a sort of global cultural imperialism originating in Hollywood.
I’m using “Californication” to refer to a particular urban blight: tearing down a small 1920s or 1930s house on a harmonious block and erecting an oversized, overbearing, modern monstrosity that blocks out the sky for its unfortunate neighbors and turns its back on the kind of urban living that the other residents of the block moved there to enjoy.
Our block is so far unbroken. Californication is just beginning in St. Paul; it is far more advanced in parts of Minneapolis. Katharyn has voiced the opinion that in general Minneapolis is more willing to tear down the old to make room for the new; St. Paul on the whole has more appreciation for relics of bygone eras and is not so quick to obliterate them.
Before settling on this neighborhood we looked at a number of others around the Cities, especially the Fulton area around 50th and France in Edina / Minneapolis. The photo above and the two following are Google Street View images captured from that area in October 2014. The photo above shows a Californication looming above its neighbors on a street of modest one-story homes. In the next photo, the new construction literally puts its neighbor to the north in the shade. The third shows an obnoxious (IMO) oversized house dwarfing its indigenous 2-story neighbors.
There are two common vectors for teardown / Califormications: owners and speculators. In the first case, an individual or family may buy on older house, knock it down, and construct the much larger house they desire. In the second case, the teardown and reconstruction happen strictly on spec and strictly for the profit of a quick sale. The result in either case is, as often as not, a less desirable block but one with higher property taxes.
The Street View image below is a capture from our neighborhood in St. Paul; the Googlemobile visited in August 2014. The teardown had been accomplished and a massive new foundation poured. The final image shows the current state of construction on this unseemly (IMO) addition to the neighborhood: a 4,500 sq. ft. residence among modest houses less than half the size.
There are certainly many suburban neighborhoods where houses at such a scale would blend in harmoniously. Traditional urban blocks of quarter-acre properties in Minneapolis and St. Paul do not number among them.
Here is the Facebook page of an outfit called Save Our Saint Paul Neighborhoods. We plan to get involved with them once our moving-in frenzy subsides.
It’s wonderful to have your observations of of the Twin Cities. I agree with your wife. As a professional tour guide, I often make the distinction between the two cities: Minneapolis is about progress and St. Paul is about preservation. Minneapolis may have started on that journey when the downtown buildings were set on fire from exploding flour mills. No kidding. The resulting fires forced them to rebuild. St. Paul is primarily a residential city. It’s largest source of revenues have come from the many colleges and universities that are in the area. We have a highly educated workforce but there has always been a level of awareness of neighborhood houses as related to campus sprawl. The colleges have largely been extremely cooperative with the residents. Generally speaking people who wanted enormous McMansions would be out in third ring suburbs. The city lots generally don’t allow people to build houses that big. Clearly, that’s changing.
Thanks, Michelle! I have been reading up on the nuances of teardowns and overbuilding (or perhaps it should be termed uber-building?). It’s a knotty issue for sure. No-one really wants to circumscribe the rights of property owners; and court precedent in the US leans strongly in favor of giving those owners a free hand with their property. The tools available to limit what can be done to a property are few. Zoning is a blunt instrument. Building codes can help, but they can be worked around in any number of ways by a determined builder. Designation of a neighborhood as historic offers the strongest protections. But is there actually anything historic about Mac-Groveland (e.g.)? Charming, yes; inviting, certainly; but not particularly historic.
The same thing has been happening in my former neighborhood of Concord, MA — I didn’t realize it was called Californication. The house next door was a modest one-story home where a family with 3 active boys were raised. When they sold the property, the new owners doubled (!) the size of the house for their 2-child family, clearing trees that had provided our privacy. All we could do was ask, “Why?” The answer, of course, was, “Because they can.”
Californication makes more economic sense, alas, in places like Concord, Lexington, or Edina: there’s more spread between average property values (high and ascending) and the price for an old, smaller house sitting on that valuable land. What baffles me is seeing teardowns in a relatively stable market and a modest neighborhood like Mac-Groveland, whose appeal is mostly in the aesthetics and the quality of life, and not in speculative real estate.